"In the Cafe"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
June 9 2009 6:51 AM

"In the Cafe"

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear Louise Glück read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.
.
It's natural to be tired of earth. When you've been dead this long, you'll probably be tired of heaven. You do what you can do in a place but after awhile you exhaust that place, so you long for rescue.

My friend falls in love a little too easily.
Every year or so a new girl—
If they have children he doesn't mind—
he can fall in love with children also.

So the rest of us get sour and he stays the same,
full of adventure, always making new discoveries.
But he hates moving, so the women have to come from here, or near here.

Every month or so, we meet for coffee.
In summer, we'll walk around the meadow, sometimes as far as the mountain.
Even when he suffers, he's thriving, happy in his body.
It's partly the women, of course, but not that only.

He moves into their houses, learns to like the movies they like.
It's not an act—he really does learn,
the way someone goes to cooking school and learns to cook.

He sees everything with their eyes.
He becomes not what they are but what they could be
if they weren't trapped in their characters.
For him, this new self of his is liberating because it's invented—

he absorbs the fundamental needs in which their souls are rooted,
he experiences as his own the rituals and preferences these give rise to—
but as he lives with each woman, he inhabits each version of himself
fully, because it isn't compromised by the normal shame and anxiety.

When he leaves, the women are devastated.
Finally they met a man who answered all their needs—
there was nothing they couldn't tell him.
When they meet him now, he's a cipher—
the person they knew didn't exist anymore.
He came into existence when they met,
he vanished when it ended, when he walked away.

After a few years, they get over him.
They tell their new boyfriends how amazing it was,
like living with another woman, but without the spite, the envy,
and with a man's strength, a man's clarity of mind.

And the men tolerate this, they even smile.
They stroke the woman's hair—
they know this man doesn't exist; it's hard for them to feel competitive.

You couldn't ask, though, for a better friend,
a more subtle observer. When we talk, he's candid and open,
he's kept the intensity we all had when we were young.
He talks openly of fear, of the qualities he detests in himself.
And he's generous—he knows how I am just by looking.
If I'm frustrated or angry, he'll listen for hours,
not because he's forcing himself, because he's interested.

I guess that's how he is with the women.
But the friends he never leaves—
With them, he's trying to stand outside his life, to see it clearly—

Today he wants to sit; there's a lot to say,
too much for the meadow. He wants to be face to face,
talking to someone he's known forever.

He's on the verge of a new life.
His eyes glow, he isn't interested in the coffee.
Even though it's sunset, for him
the sun is rising again, and the fields are flushed with dawn light,
rose colored and tentative.

He's himself in these moments, not pieces of the women
he's slept with. He enters their lives as you enter a dream,
without volition, and he lives there as you live in a dream,
however long it lasts. And in the morning, you remember
nothing of the dream at all, nothing at all.

.

Louise Glück's new book, A Village Life, will appear this September.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
  Technology
Technocracy
Oct. 20 2014 11:36 PM Forget Oculus Rift This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual-reality experience.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 21 2014 7:00 AM Watch the Moon Eat the Sun: The Partial Solar Eclipse on Thursday, Oct. 23
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.